Don’t You (Forget About Me)
I think I’m going crazy.
As far as I can tell, there are two kinds of crazy: the fun, zany kind, like a mad scientist in a kid’s show, and the oh-my-God-I-think-I’m-legitimately-losing-it kind of crazy. This is that second one. A tiny part of my brain, way in the back, is constantly yelling, “What are you doooooooiiiiinnnnnng?!” in slow motion. The other 95% of my brain is shouting back, “I HAVE NO IDEA BUT IT SEEMED LIKE A GOOD PLAN AT THE TIME DO YOU LIKE PEANUTS I SURE DO HEY LOOK A NARWHAL!” Only it’s a really mean narwhal and everyone around you has a peanut allergy, so it’s not at all like being at the circus. The same part of my brain thought this paragraph would make sense. Let’s move on.
Early last week I was talking to my stupid-talented friend Jordan (who, incidentally, did the stupid-talented illustrations for this here post) about a comic he’s planning. As an example, he sent me the link to his similarly stupid-talented friend Jonas’ web comic, the Adventures of Jonas.
Necessary Ingredients for an Adventure
– A dangerous quest
– An almost irrational hatred of the elderly
– A lot of talk about pirates
Things Jonas’ Comic Has
– All of that
I read the comic when I was supposed to be doing other stuff and then I kind of couldn’t stop thinking about it. Something about the story was really getting to me. Days later, I finally realized what it was: Jonas basically illustrated his very own coming-of-age story as it happened. (In retrospect, the comic that explicitly states it’s a coming-of-age adventure really should have been a clue.) I didn’t even know people outside of Winona Ryder movies and J.D. Salinger novels could have coming-of-age stories. I legitimately thought they were a genre like true crime or time-travel romance.
People have been telling me a lot of strange stories recently. An ex sent me a long message about a Dayquil-induced vision quest that changed his life (don’t ask). My best friend went through a dark time while living in Alaska (and not only because it was winter and the sun never rose), and came back with a new outlook on everything. Another friend and I talk a lot about the time he went insane and came out the other side precisely 183 times happier. I’ve heard at least four similar stories in the last six months, but apparently I wasn’t listening.
It just occurred to me that these people have been telling me their coming-of-age stories. Maybe life is imitating art, but I’m starting to think there’s a reason people write books and make movies about kids my age figuring life out. Fun fact: caterpillars digest themselves in their cocoons before becoming butterflies. They literally eat themselves alive until they’re goo. I hate to rely on a butterfly metaphor because they’re overused and I’m a stone cold killer, but maybe I’m not going crazy. Maybe I’m just in a weird caterpillar-soup phase. Someday I’ll be a beautiful butterfly.
It’s just that Holden Caulfield didn’t prepare me for the process.
‘Bildungsroman’ is Not the Name of a Hobbit: The Complications of Coming-of-Age
Complication #1: What age I’m supposed to be… coming of?
In To Kill A Mockingbird, Scout is nine when reality busts the Finch children’s innocence as efficiently as Tom Robinson busted up the Ewell’s old chiffarobe. On the other hand, 30 Rock is Liz Lemon’s coming-of-age story and she was 43 in the last season. None of this is helping with my ongoing quest to discover exactly when adulthood begins. I thought I came of age around the time I decided angsty vampire novels are not for me. Was that… was that not it?
Complication #2: Is this like Puberty, Part II?
Now that I know what I’m looking for, I can tell which friends have had some kind of life-changing emotional journey and which ones haven’t. It’s a lot like being able to tell who’s hopped on the ol’ Hormone Express (I promise to never call it that again) in middle school. Can everyone tell? Is everybody going to act weird around me on Thanksgiving again? In sixth grade, my dad had to remind me to wear a bra. What’s the quarter-life crisis equivalent of that?
Complication #3: When is it going to end?
At least puberty ran on a schedule. The events directly precipitating this particular mental breakdown began more than a year ago, but they were heavily influenced by some weird things that occurred circa 2007. I can’t even tell when it started, much less when it’s going to be over, or if it will ever end at all. We knew Scarlett O’Hara had changed forever when she swore to get Rhett Butler back because that’s when Gone with the Wind ended, but Scarlett didn’t know. She probably just felt sheepish about talking to herself and went back inside to deal with the banalities of life during Southern Reconstruction. I hope my turning point is more like Scott Pilgrim’s, in that a voice-over shouts “Stephanie earned the Power of Self-Respect!” and I pull a flaming sword out of my chest to do battle. There’s no way I’ll miss that cue.
Complication #4: As my friend Adrienne said, “It’s not like rainbows and bubbles pop out of your butt.”
No one comes-of-age after a series of uplifting, fun incidents. Those aren’t an impetus for change. When Ponyboy has to deal with the deaths of Johnny and Dallas in The Outsiders, it’s sad. When Jane Eyre discovers that sexy Mr. Rochester has been keeping his insane wife locked in the attic in a totally not-sexy way, it’s horrifying. It’s not that sad or horrifying, though, because it’s not happening to you. It’s easy to overlook the fact that the things that happen in coming-of-age stories are extremely dark. Then it’s your turn to be sad or horrified, and you eventually see that the only way to bounce back is to hit rock bottom first. Even if you’re really into geology, rock bottom is not a nice place.
Complication #5: Don’t I get a catchphrase or an interesting hat?
Holden Caulfield had both.
There was this moment — albeit rather fleeting — where I saw my name, and wondered what the sane part of my brain had been doing while the rest of my brain (read: the majority, and/or the insane part) had apparently gone off and drawn illustrations far better than I remember myself being capable of.
That last but, with the prepositional phrase modified to be grammatically correct but a nightmare to ponder:
“…had apparently gone off and drawn illustrations far better than I remember myself to which being capable.”
And now I’ve got that goddam Simple Minds song stuck in my brain, literally stuck like a simile that’s become wedged in a drain…
On the bright side, it gets better. I get to say that from the aged perch upon which I clawed up.
On the Holden Caulfield side, um, life seems to come with waves of “coming of age” apexes.
Just when you think you’ve hit the other side: I have an apartment and a job! You discover that despite your long hair and patchwork granny skirts, you are STILL the only uncool person in (early) 1970’s Berkeley because you like showers, dislike armpit hair, and your desire to drop LSD is so low that you walk around with your hand covering the opening of your Fanta soda. And you have an apartment and a job. Adulthood is non-stop sex, drugs, and rock and roll? Did “groovy” “far out, man” and “that’s SO plastic” really just come out of your mouth? Voila, new existential crisis. Fortunately intervals between coming of age moments (you mean I have to come of this age and this age and THIS AGE?!?) do get longer. (It helps to remember one used to say things like “groovy” in an earnest manner.)
I’m really mad that I read this, specifically the title, as now I can’t stop singing that damn song … thanks a lot!
I think Western culture is deeply lacking when it comes to teaching its inheritors about the inherently cyclic nature of life. There is an expectation set up about these imposed milestones in our lives, as though upon passing them, we enter a completely altered status quo, and those who don’t experience such a revelation at the “right time” are somehow lacking. My experience has taught me that this is wrong for two reasons: there are no objectively quantifiable milestones to pass by, and there can be no status quo revelation since there isn’t really a status quo to begin with. Growth and change are constants; they may ebb and flow, but they only stop for one thing. I just try to remain positive, and thankful that I have not yet reached that stopping point.
I’m 42 and I don’t think I’ve had that coming-of-age story yet. I’m still getting there…